Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Brownlee Cemetery: Dead End?

The dead end road to Brownlee, which is just over the brow of the hill and to the right, surrounded by overgrown fence rows.

Now there's food for thought. I'm sure it seemed like a good and practical idea to post the little green and white Iowa Prison Industries "Brownlee Cemetery" sign just below the big yellow "Dead End" sign alongside that narrow lane headed west, but there's something dangerously close to editorial comment here, and if I were one of the Brownlee tenants, easily offended and such things were possible --- a little haunting might be in order.

A Memorial Day display of peonies marking graves not far from the east edge of Brownlee Cemetery.

Not that Brownlee Cemetery isn't a lovely --- although somewhat obscure and dilapidated --- place to rest. It is the largest and oldest of English Township's three cemeteries (the others are Spring Hill to the northwest and Pine Hill, also known as Bingham, over east on the Melcher-Dallas road with its spectacular northward view).

Many of English Township's first settlers are buried at Brownlee, and I'm certain it takes its name from the Brownlee family, who were among those early residents and perhaps owned the slope above a creek where it's located.

A lavish floral tribute to Daniel and Susannah Willoughby. There are both Willoughbys and Willibys buried in great numbers at Brownlee, so you'll need a scorecard to sort them out.

To get there, drive about four miles north north out of Chariton on Highway 14, swooping northeasterly down through and up out of the Little White Breast Creek valley, then note the Williamson crossoroads (Williamson will be a mile to the east astraddle a paved turnoff). Drive just a little farther north on 14, not even a quarter mile, then take the gravel road that heads due north off the angled highway. Three-quarters of a mile north on gravel, that narrow "Dead End: Brownlee Cemetery" road leads off to the west. If you're going too fast, you'll miss it and have to back up.

Last January, I promised John Shockley of Topeka, Kansas, that I'd get out to Brownlee to check up on his kin buried there. Monday was a great day to do this, late in the afternoon on the pre-Memorial Day pilgrimage from Oxford to Columbia.

Brownlee has had is ups and downs maintenance-wise. There have been very few recent burials --- but just enough to deny it Pioneer Cemetery status. So it still depends on the English Townshp trustees. Because it is out of sight and descendants of pioneer occupants either bury elsewhere or have left the county, many grand old stones have been allowed to tumble and some years it's looked just plain awful --- grass shaggy, weeds high and branches everywhere.

I remember the days when it was shaded by massive old white pines that the wind always whispered through. Time, however, has claimed those.

It was looking good Monday, however, neatly mown, a little pesticide judiciously applied to keep weeds down, all the branches and fallen trees taken away. The fence rows have been allowed to grow up, so Brownlee is green-walled. Indifferent maintenance in other years has ensured survival of graveside plantings, so there were some lavish displays of iris and peony. And because of its remote location, not a sound other than the wind and birdsong.

John Shockley tracked me down last winter after discovering a cousin of his, Laura Shockley, age 8, enumerated in the 1880 census as "adopted daughter" in the English Township household of my great-great-grandparents, Jeremiah and Elizabeth (McMulin) Miller. What was going on here, he wondered.

I was able to tell him what I knew --- that Jeremiah and Elizabeth had taken Laura into their home not long after her mother died to fill, in part, the void left by the deaths of their own daughters. The Millers had 10 children total, all but one born while they were living one county east in Pleasant Township, Monroe County. The boys, William Owen, Joseph Cyrus, Richard, James Harvey, Gerial Trescott and Harry, all thrived. But the little girls, Mary Cynthia, Miriam Jane, Eliza Elizabeth and Harriet Clara, all died between 1855 and 1864 at ages ranging from a few days to 12 years and were buried in the Miller family cemetery in Monroe County, Pleasant Corners. The Millers moved west into English Township, where many other family members had settled earlier, during 1867, and I'm sure the loss of those little girls still was felt deeply.

Laura was one of a set of twins. Her sister, Delpha, my granddad said, had been taken in by Mrs. J.F. Spiker after Mrs. Shockley's death.

John was able to fill in more of the details. He told me that Laura and her sister, Delpha (also known as Della), were daughters of his great-uncle, John McGill Shockley, and his wife, Hannah Luman, who had married in Illinois.

John said the Shockleys, who apparently came to English Township soon after 1860, had at least six children, Mary Katherine, Manuel, Louisa, Milton C., Delpha and Laura.

The 1870 census of English Township suggests that there were more children. The Shockley family was enumerated that year one household removed from that of Jeremiah and Elizabeth Miller and included John M.G. Shockley, 38, born Ohio; Hannah, age 34, also born Ohio; Thomas E., age 16, born Illinois; Mary C., age 13, born Illinois; Manuel E., age 9, born Illinois; Lavon A., age 4, born Iowa; Milton H., age 2, born Iowa; and Elmer, age 9 months, also born Iowa.

Another son was Jesse, whose tombstone is next to his mother's at Brownlee.

According to John's records, Hannah died 4 August 1873 (a date confirmed by her Brownlee Cemetery tombstone), not long after Laura and Delpha were born.

Three years after Hannah died, John Shockley married Sarah Jane (probably the widow of a Johnson) as his second wife, on 6 June 1876 at an unknown location, and they had a son, John A., John Shockley said. John M. and Sarah Jane also had a son named Harry who died young, I discovered during Monday's visit.

By the time the 1880 Lucas County census was taken, John M. and Sarah Jane had moved into Chariton, where his profession was given as plasterer. Their household included children Manuel, age 19; Lavisa, age 14; Delpha, age 8; John A., age 3; and Minnie Johnson, 11, Sarah Jane's child by her previous marriage. This suggests that the Spikers kept Delpha only a few years, probably until after John M. remarried.

Laura grew up with the Millers, using the Miller surname sometimes and her birth name, Shockley, at others. She certainly was considered a sister by the Miller boys and a daughter by Jeremiah and Elizabeth.

According to John Shockley, John M. Shockley and other members of his family went west after 1880. He died 23 July 1914 in Smith Center, Kansas, and is buried there. John hadn't been able to determine what became of Sarah Jane.

Twin sister Deplha (or Della) ended up in California and married William G. Polcene on 5 October 1895 in Los Angeles, according to John Shockley. Polcene's occupation was given as policeman in the 1900 census of Riverside County, California. They had a son and grandson, both named Elliott Polcene.

So far, we've not tracked Laura down. During the late 1890s, Elizabeth (McMulin) Miller and Laura traveled west to visit Elizabeth's son, Harvey, and his family who had settled some years earlier on farm near Garden Grove, California. Laura apparently remained in California and was reunited with her sister. She was living with Delpha/Della and William Polcene in Riverside when the 1900 census was taken, her occupation listed as orange-picker.

I know that she survived at least until 1927, when she was listed as a surviving "sister in California" upon the death of Harry Miller, but beyond that I have no further information.

There are three Shockley tombstones still standing in good repair at Brownlee, and I suspect that other children died young and are buried there. The Shockley lot is just to the left (west) of the center drive, midway into the cemetery. The inscriptions on those stones read as follows:

Aug. 4, 1873
37 Y, 8M, & 4Ds

Note: The Lucas County Genealogical Society's 1981 "Lucas County, Iowa, Cemetery Records" misreports Hannah's age at death as 32 years, 5 months, 4 days.

Son of
Feb. 14, 1870
9 Yrs, 7 Mo. & 4Ds.

Note: The Lucas County Genealogical Society misreported Jesse's inscription as "Jesse A., son of John, died Feb. 14, 1921, age 9y, 2m, 1d."

Son of
(Remainder of inscription buried)

Note. The Lucas County Genealogical Society overlooked this tombstone entirely.

So that wraps up the Shockley report.

A few members of my family also are buried at Brownlee, nearly all of them in unmarked graves.

The only grave marked by a tombstone (which I found once leaning against a tree stump but couldn't located Monday) is that of Clarence B. McMulin, son of Joseph Ezra and Sophia Cabot (Severn) McMulin, who was born according to family records 20 February 1867 and died 23 April 1867.

Buried in an unmarked grave is Elizabeth (Vickroy) Miller, first wife of Owen Miller (son of Jeremiah and Elizabeth), who died during the night of 26/27 June 1890, age about 42.

Also buried in unmarked graves at Brownlee are Mary Miller, age 12, and Alonzo Miller, age 3 (who died of a rattlesnake bite), children of Jeremiah Miller's youngest brother and sister-in-law, Sylvanus and Adelia Permilia Lucinda Phylena (Nottage) Miller. Mary died about 1873. Alonzo's death year isn't known.


sally foulks said...

My husband's paternal grandmother,Caroline Severn Foulks, is buried in Brownlee cemetery. We visited her grave years ago. Her stone said only "Mother," which was her wish. In front of it are four little tablets, two standing and two lying flat at that time, for four babies who died. Then she had four who lived--two 'til their 90s.

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